A guidebook author and his buddy launch a three day, class V
expedition through the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula.
Hanging from my perch 80 feet above the river, I was thinking we
could have run the class VI canyon with less risk than we were taking
on these crumbly gorge walls. And I was facing my own worst
nightmare---a flooded class VI canyon with no apparent portage.
This whole nerve-wracking trip had started two years earlier when I
had seen slides from Scott Matthew's and Sprague Ackley's exploratory
trip. "The best whitewater in Washington," they claimed. I was
seduced by shots of spectacular ledge drops in amazing gorges.
Scott sent me some notes from his trip:
Class IV-V logged at 150-200 cfs
Length 12.8 miles + 7 miles on Queets River Gradient 143 feet/mile ( 50
to 340 )
Time required 3 to 4 days
1 day to hike in (11 miles)
2 days to boat the river (20 hours)
Number of rapids Class III 104
Class IV 67
Class V 20
Class VI to unrunnable 10
I showed this to my buddy Mike Deckert and we were off. Tshletshy
Creek is a tributary to the Queets River on the west side of
Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Not only is Tshletshy hard to say and
spell, it's even more difficult to access. There are no roads
anywhere near this watershed, which lies within Olympic National
Park-an untouched temperate rain forest. The world's largest Douglas
Fir and Alaska Cedar are attractions along the trip.
First we hiked the empty kayaks seven miles and 3100 vertical feet
to the divide separating Tshletshy from the Quinault. It was April
and the snow made sliding the boats through the upper meadows very
Two weeks later we returned with three day's worth of self support
gear and we headed for "the best whitewater in the state." When we
reached the boats we loaded some gear in them and carried the rest in
packs. Once we started into the Tshletshy drainage, the trail went
from bad to non-existent. After traversing several blowdowns and
avalanche chutes we were exhausted zombies. We sat and rested,
staring at the headwaters of the creek. Small chutes of snow fed
several tiny tribs. We scrambled down about a half mile and reached
the creek; it was about 15 cfs!
We stared in stunned disappointment, wondering how far we would
have to walk before there would be enough volume to paddle. We were
so exhausted we made camp, just as the rain began. No surprise in one
of the wettest valleys in the U.S. We each had small tarps and soon
we were resting comfortably and cooking ramen on Mike's stove. We
joked about waking up in the morning with ample water to paddle. Soon
I was asleep on my bed of moss.
The next morning we discovered our dreams had come true. About 75
cfs of rusty brown water was flowing past our camp. An amazing flow,
considering the drainage area was only about 4 square miles!
We put on and after a half mile we came to the first gorge.
Scouting revealed 100 feet of drop over five falls. An easy portage
on river left put that gorge behind us.
At the second gorge we scouted a big rapid that went around a turn
to the right. I walked down and scouted the turn; there was a clear
route along the left wall. Looking down from above, I didn't realize
that it dropped about ten feet. I told Mike it was okay along the
left and headed down. I eddied out just in time to see Mike's eyes
bulging as he flew around the corner and plunged over the drop.
We were starting to have some real fun. Just below the second
gorge we spotted a huge bull elk whose antlers were adorned in rich
Another mile brought us to the "Tshlasm." This is the third gorge,
which drops about 150 feet in several falls. Another easy portage on
the left and we were back in our boats, making good time through
endless class III - V drops. The water level was now about 500 cfs
and the creek was starting to have a real punch.
By afternoon several close calls had left us tired and scared. The
water level was at least 750 cfs and the holes were becoming a real
terror. At one point we braved a trashy boulder-choked mess on the
left, just to avoid a small falls with a benign hole on the
Our judgment was warped. We needed to find a camp, but we hadn't
seen anything but gorges for hours. Then, there it was, a perfect
spot. This turned out to be the only campsite in six miles of
demanding canyon. At lower water levels it would take quite a push to
get there in one day.
We set up while the rain continued to fall. As we sat cooking our
dinner, knowing that the river would continue to rise, I was
terrified, thinking, "You got yourself into this mess and now you're
going to have to get yourself out."
The next morning the river was huge. Brown exploding waves carried
debris speeding off around the corner. We estimated the flow to be
about 1800 cfs. As we ate breakfast we talked about laying over a day
or so, but decided if we didn't show up on schedule, our wives might
initiate a rescue.
We put on and blasted the first mile of brown raceway, only
stopping to scout one giant rapid ending in a huge hole. We stopped
to scout a class IV drop that slammed into and under a logjam with
amazing force. I wanted to portage, but the cliffs were vertical or
worse. There was one place to go under the logs on the right, but the
current was moving to the left.
As I got into my boat I felt I was taking a big chance. My fear
made the rapid seem class VI. One missed stroke and I'd face my
demise. I watched Mike hit a few holes and pull right safely. This
gave me more confidence, and I made the move easily.
But after ducking under the trees, I saw Mike scrambling along the
left, trying to get into an eddy. I pulled into the slow water on the
right and started treading water along the wall. Mike could get out
of his boat but he couldn't see much. He signaled the right looked
It didn't matter; I couldn't tread water any longer, so I headed
down the right side. Bumbling through the class V drop that followed
seemed anti-climactic after all our close calls.
We burned off another mile of great water, even stopping at
several playspots, easing our anxiety a bit. Then we came to a narrow
gorge with a severe horizon. Scouting revealed a ten foot falls
ramping into a violent flush around a blind turn. Smooth high walls
kept us from seeing much around the corner, but there appeared to be
another significant falls ahead. I couldn't even think of running
A small crumbly gully headed up on the right, so up we went. After
a horrendous workout roping loaded boats up the cliffs, we dead ended
about twenty feet from the top. We were so exhausted we just sat,
supported by a Yew tree that was threatening to tear loose from the
Mike decided to go back down and attempt another route. We hoped
he would be able to lower a rope from above. Hanging from this perch,
I was thinking it would have been easier to flush over the falls, as
compared to crawling along those cliffs, tooth and nail. After about
twenty minutes I heard Mike yelling from above.
He lowered the rope and pulled the boats up. His route had been
exposed and scary, so I decided to use the rope for the last pitch
also. With nothing but flaky rock to climb on, I went hand over hand.
But about 3/4 of the way up my strength ran out. I hung for a while
with my foot stuffed into a root hold.
Looking up at Mike, I could see he was concerned. I thought about
going down, but I was too tired. I had about a five second talk with
myself and then I went for it, using all the strength I had left to
reach the top.
From here we started what was to be an hour long trudge covering
about 200 yards. When we got back to the river it treated us to a
great mile of boating, class III and IV with a couple of class V's.
In one of the bigger drops Mike was pushed left into a big hole. A
long ride followed by a rear ender into an ever bigger hole. After
another long ride, Mike wound up at the bottom, laughing.
This was some great boating. As the river eased up a bit we found
some dynamic playspots. Soon kayaks were flying and paddles were
Confident grins accompanied us as we flushed out into the mighty
Queets. We enjoyed the last few miles of big water, while we tried to
spot the world's largest Douglas Fir.
By the time we reached the take-out we were flying high. As we
drove the shuttle we relived the events of the last three days. I had
really pushed myself, both physically and mentally. Neither of us had
ever experienced a watershed so untouched, so remote, so special. The
world we had traversed was enchanted. The gorges were stunning and
the whitewater was humbling.
Someday, I'll do it again.
lat/long very approximate by tiger map
for additional information see:
Here are a couple of links to our trip...
Ryan Scott and I hiked into Tshletshy over the 4th of July weekend 2011. We spent 2 days hiking and 2 days boating. It was a fantastic adventure through pristine old growth forest. Plenty of game tracks all along the way. We found the hiking and scouting to be not-too-scary and the whitewater to be some of the best in the state. On that note, I would recommend doing this trip for the adventure, not the whitewater. It is awesome. Plenty of wood as any OP run goes. And the canyons... Timing is critical for good spring time flows. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy this special place you've worked so hard to get into. And bring extra food!!
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Visual. Runs during spring snowmelt.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
on the way...
Ryan Scott, Tshletshy
Ryan Scott in Tshletshy canyon
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